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Hard-wiring safe behaviour into local mining operations

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In the September/October edition of the South African Chamber of Mines Magazine, Partners in Performance Director Gareth Huckle describes Partners in Performance's approach to implementing mine safety

A combination of deteriorating safety performance, increasingly stringent application of safety legislation, shareholder pressure, broader stakeholder concern, and simple economic impact are prompting local mining companies to re-assess their approach to safety and, in particular, to safety auditing.

Although many operations routinely conduct safety audits, these audits often fail in their most basic purpose, which is to provide a holistic picture of what needs to be addressed to drive safer behav- iour. Internationally recognised operational improvement consulting firm, Partners in Performance, addresses this issue through its innovative and unique ‘Safety Wiring’ approach.

Director, Gareth Huckle, explains, “More and more of our clients are telling us that their operations ‘look good on paper’ i.e. they are performing well in various safety audits, but this is not translating into better safety performance ‘on the ground’. This is often because traditional safety audits are heavily biased in their design towards compliance (typically with standards such as OHSAS 18001), yet this, while necessary, is simply not sufficient to provide insight into the full gamut of factors that drive safe behaviour in mines. A more comprehensive and holistic approach to safety management is required”.

What safety leaders do

Partners in Performance is a global firm of operational improvement consultants, focused on the resources sector. It partners with its clients to increase throughput, lower costs and optimise capital projects.

As part of its focus on performance improvement, Partners in Performance often assists its clients with improving safety performance. To this end, it recently conducted research for a client into the question: ‘What sets safety leaders in industry apart?’ This research involved a scan of over 75 businesses to identify global safety leaders, and then more detailed research on about half of the businesses. A more in-depth analysis was then conducted, involving a comprehensive literature review and multiple interviews.

“What we discovered,” said Huckle “is that there are seven common characteristics which really set safety leaders apart from the rest of the pack:

  • A genuine care for safety, demonstrated by leaders at all levels
  • Operational excellence throughout the organisation
  • Safety KPIs and performance targets set at a granular level
  • Clear individual accountability in place to drive safety
  • Behavioural safety is embedded
  • Leveraging of safety information and in-house expertise
  • A continuous improvement cycle to further eliminate risks.

 “We saw a very high correlation between LTIFR and the total score on these seven dimensions. If you genuinely want to improve your safety performance you have to perform well on all of them.”

Safety Wiring

Understanding the need to perform well on these seven dimensions does not in itself change behaviour and, even if progress is made, there is no guarantee it will be sustained. This is where Safety Wiring comes in and where Partners in Performance believes it can assist mines with driving safer behaviour and sustainably.

Huckle states that, “Through over 20 years of helping our mining cli- ents to improve performance at their operations, Partners in Performance has developed the concept of Wiring to both enable and sustain that improvement – in other words, to ‘wire it in’ so that the new or different way of operating becomes the norm. We have applied Wiring to the area of safety performance in the same way we would to other improve- ment challenges (such as increasing production or reducing cost) and thus, while Wiring in general addresses the organisational factors that drive desired behaviour, Safety Wiring specifically addresses the organisational factors that drive safe behaviour”.

He adds that, “Our Safety Wiring Pyramid provides a structured and systematic way for our clients to not only assess their performance against the seven common characteristics of safety leaders, but also to identify any opportunities to drive safer behaviour”.

The Safety Wiring pyramid

The Safety Wiring Pyramid is built from the bottom up; unless the layer below is strong, the next layer up cannot be effective.

Safety strategy – the first and thus fundamental consideration. What are the ‘precious few’ things (often referred to as critical or fatal risks) that have to be managed well to drive safe behaviour and what are the related met- rics of safety performance?

Safety disciplines – for  the  ‘precious few’, what processes and systems should be in place to ensure high performance? Do people know what they have to do to perform safely?

Alignment and motivation – having estab- lished the safety strategy and assessed the relevant safety disciplines, the drivers of individual behaviour and what may be moti- vating undesired behaviour are investigated.

Sustaining disciplines – the performance against the safety strategy is tracked and reviewed, what happens when under- performance is identified, and how individuals are held to account.

Continuous improvement – with the four lower layers of the pyramid in place, pro- cesses and capabilities of the organisation are reviewed for continuous improvement of safety performance.

Visible safety leadership – finally, the reinforcing actions and observable safety behaviour of leaders at all levels in the or- ganisation are reassessed, from the CEO or GM down to front line supervisors, and the impact of this behaviour on all the levels of the pyramid is measured.

Huckle adds that, “Partners in Performance's Safety Wiring Pyramid is a comprehensive approach to driving safe behaviour in organisations. The question of compliance – often the single focus of many so-called safety audits – is but a part of Safety Wiring (within the Safety Disciplines layer of the pyramid), and only one element of many that need to be consid- ered to determine an organisation’s safety health and drive safer behaviour”.

Case study

Partners in Performance is helping its clients to better assess their safety health through conducting Safety Wiring audits, using the Safety Wiring Pyramid to consider the full gamut of ele- ments that influence safety behaviour in operations. In one such case, an African gold miner was experiencing a deteriorating trend in its safety performance and recognised that a different approach to auditing and evaluating its safety practices was required; one which acknowledged that understanding compliance and adherence to standards is necessary, but is not on its own sufficient to explain what was driving safety behaviour and, ultimately, safety outcomes. Partners in Performance was engaged to conduct a series of Safety Wiring audits at the company’s operations that identified a number of priority areas the company should work on to address performance.

“What we helped them understand,” said Huckle, “is that although they were very effective in some areas, their Safety Strategy was essentially reactive; it focused very much on the reporting of lagging indicators (such as LTIFR) and not on leading indicators, the things that actually drive safety outcomes and which can actually be managed. As a con- sequence, in this case there was a weakness at this most fundamental level in the Wiring Pyramid”.

Rectifying the problem was not simply a case of identifying a set of lagging indicators that could be proactively managed – although this was clearly necessary – but required a new, more proactive safety strategy to be wired in through addressing the other layers of the pyramid. “Simply identifying a set of fatal risks and associated leading indicators won’t change safety behaviour. Our client under- stood that, to be effective, the revised Safety Strategy had to be incorporated in the Safety Disciplines, Alignment and Motivation, and Sustaining Disciplines layers of the Safety Wiring Pyramid too,” said Huckle.

A  new approach

Established in 1996, with staff of over 400 consultants has a global footprint that spans Africa, Australasia, Europe, North America and South America. In addition to the mining and resources sector, Partners in Performance partners with clients in the industrial manufacturing, oil and gas, utilities, telecommunications, hospitality and leisure sectors.

Although there are numerous consulting companies in Africa, Huckle points out that Partners in Performance is the only one that places such a high priority on implementation and bottom-line results. “We don’t deliver recommendations to our clients, we deliver sustainable results – and our fees are often contingent on our success in doing so.”

Huckle concludes, “We are really excited by the growing opportunity to assist our South African mining clients to improve their safety perfor- mance. We’re passionate about safety and about performance improve- ment and so being able to combine them to drive safer behaviour in South Africa’s mines is a very natural and gratifying place for us to be”.

About the authors

Aoife Murphy